When it comes to business performance tools, we have evolved from the very tangible (computer hardware) to the very ephemeral and human (creativity and innovation) in the short short span of a mere few decades. The rapid pace of evolution of the computing industry is an example of this.

I found this Apple ad from way back when back-straining luggable was portable computing. But I digress.

Back then, the computer hardware you chose pretty much dictated the software you have available to you. And the differences were often significant. The primary IT purchasing decision was: which brand of hardware to buy. Hence the perfectly reasonable questions: What kind of computers are they using? And why don’t we have them?

That was the age of tangible things.

Fast forward a few years. The hardware sector has now consolidated from loads of diverse start-ups into a few mature players. Hardware became a commodity. Suddenly, software became the more important decision. Especially software that did specialised things like groupware and messaging. What you chose could directly affect your performance. See this Lotus Domino ad:

The trend continues.

Today, software has become more of a background thing. We all need software, there are loads of software, and even customised software is very doable to the average business (given a favourable cost benefit analysis and all that). Software has become commoditised.

And so we move to thinking. More specifically creative thinking. Given the availability of cheap hardware, a vast global pool of software development talent (not to mention sophisticated and mature development tools), what powers performance is new ways to exploit this situation. New ways to work outside the box of established models of software development and hardware deployment. New ways to leverage all this cheap and powerful things.

Put another way – these days, a business could buy building loads of the best hardware and software; and still fail to perform. Being the largest software company with the best things does not automatically guarantee you a win against some unknown dog lover working out of her garage on a K-mart-sourced laptop.

The whole Web 2.0 movement is another perspective on this. With so much cheap power, let’s have some un-mission-critical, frivolous, and social fun. It doesn’t matter what things you have (laptop, phone, tablet) or what operating system you use; you can participate. (Facebook vs everything else could arguable be a parallel of the groupware wars of the late nineties. But I think Facebook is more about community population than the actual nature of the software. Feature wise it was not that differentiated from its competitors of the day.)

So, is your business still relying on things for performance?